Berlin Alexanderplatz

Source: Alfred Döblin (trans. Eugene Jolas), [Berlin] Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf (London: Secker & Warburg, 1974 – orig. pub. 1929, English translation orig. pub. 1931), pp. 25-26

Text: MARKET DULL, LATER BEARS VERY ACTIVE, HAMBURG DEPRESSED, LONDON WEAKER

It was raining. To the left in Münzstrasse signs sparkled in front of the movies. At the corner he was unable to pass, the people were standing in front of a fence where there was a deep hole, the tram-car tracks ran on planks laid across the space, a car was just riding slowly over them. Aha, they are building an underground station, must be work to be had in Berlin. Another movie. Children under seventeen not allowed. On the huge poster a beet-red gentleman was standing on a staircase, while a peach of a young girl embraced his legs, she lay on the stairs, and he stood up above with a leering expression on his face. Undeneath was written: No Parents, Fate of an Orphaned Child, in Six Reels. Yes, I’ll take a look at that. The orchestrion was banging away. Price sixty pfennigs.

A man to the woman cashier: “Say, Fraulein, is it any cheaper for an old territorial without a belly?” “No, only for children under five months with a teat.” “Good. That’s our age. New-born on the instalment plan.” “All right, make it fifty then, get along in.” Behind him there meandered a young chap, slim of build, with a muffler on: “Hey, lady, I’d like to get in free.” “You’d like a lot. Does your mother know you’re out?” “Well, can I get in?” “In where?” “The movie.” “There’s no movie here.” “You really mean it, there’s no movie here?” She called through the window of the ticket-office to the watchman at the door: “Say Max, come here a minute. Here’s a fellow wants to know if there’s a movie here. He’s got no money. Go ahead and show him what we’ve got here.” “What we’ve got here, young fellow? You ain’t noticed it yet? This is the poor-box, Münzstrasse division.” He pushed the slim fellow out of the ticket-office, showed him his fist: “If you want me to, I’ll give you what’s comin’ to you right off the bat.”

Franz pushed on in. It just happened to be an intermission. The long room was packed full, 90 per cent men with caps on, they don’t take them off. The three lamps on the ceiling are covered with red. In front, a yellow piano with packages on top of it. The orchestrion makes a continuous racket. Then it gets dark and the film starts. A goose-girl is to be turned into a lady, just why, is not made so clear, at least not right in the middle. She wiped her nose with her hand, she scratched her behind on the staircase, everybody in the movie laughed. Franz thought it was quite wonderful, when the tittering began around him. Just people, free people, amusing themselves, nobody has a right to say anything to them, simply lovely, and I right here among ’em! It went on. The high-toned Baron had a sweetheart who lay in a hammock and stretched her legs vertically in the air. The girl had drawers on. That’s something. Wonder why people get so excited about that dirty goose-girl and her licking the platters clean? Again the girl with the slim legs flashed by. The Baron had left her alone, now she toppled out of the hammock, and flopped into the grass, lay there a long time. Franz stared at the screen, there was already another picture, but he still saw her toppling out and lying there for a long while. He gnawed his tongue, cripes, what was that? But when finally the one who had been the goose-girl’s lover embraced this fine lady, the skin of his chest felt hot as if he had been embracing her himself. It went all over him and made him weak.

Comments: Bruno Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) was a German doctor and novelist, famed for his modernist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, which was filmed in 1931 and 1980. It follows the fortunes of Franz Biberkopf, a murderer released from prison, as he experiences Berlin amid the rise of Nazism. An orchestrion was a machine that played multi-part music automatically by means of a cylinder or music rolls. No Parents is a fictitious title.

Cocks and Bulls in Caracas

Source: Olga Briceño, Cocks and Bulls in Caracas; how we live in Venezuela (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945), pp. 126-130

Text: Everyone is curious to know how we amuse ourselves in South America. What, they wonder, do those strange people do for fun? It’s simple enough. We amuse ourselves like anybody else, admitting the while, parenthetically, that the whole world is short on pastime, with popular imagination in this respect the victim of a pernicious anemia.

Our amusements are those of any other country, but with one peculiarity. Others find their fun outside; we find ours mostly within.

First of all, we have the movies. We are devotees of adjectives, superlatives, and dithyrambs. In certain individuals the harmless mania is particularly marked — in mothers speaking of their children, naturally, and in lovers proclaiming their devotion. Impresarios of public entertainment also suffer from it. This surprises no one. ‘You must blow your own horn’ has come to be, with us, a basic premise. As a result, any statement that is highly flavored with adjectives is automatically reduced by half in the mind of the listener. In the case of impresarios, especially of moving pictures, this drastic reduction falls far short of being enough. One should credit no more than half of half of what is claimed, or better, only half of that! The imagination of these good gentlemen is ultra-supercolossal.

No film is ever advertised in terms consistent with its quality. God forbid! If it were, no one would dream of going to it. After the customary discounting, it would appear an abstract minus quantity.

The time-honored grading of films that is regularly employed in the United States is practically unknown to us. It has been taken up to some slight extent in Caracas recently, but no one has bothered to explain the significance of it, and hence it conveys little or nothing. Venezuela is not grade-conscious like the United States. The only grades we know are the grades a student needs for his degree, the grades of fever shown by a thermometer, and the grades of — say, fervor, which no thermometer can show. The business of grading eggs or milk, for example, is not for us. Not yet.

Never is a film advertised merely by name, dates, and actors. Rather:

‘The most stupendous achievement of the Eighth Art. An unforgettable spectacle that will set you quivering with horror, joy, and anger. A veritable gem of modern moving pictures.’

‘The Downhill Donkey,’ let us say, is one such gay production which might be advertised, in fine print and parentheses, as ‘Grade F’ in North America. The announcement of it will fill a whole page in the daily papers, for in Venezuela, as everywhere else, fame is won by advertising, and impresarios spend real fortunes on publicity. Each strives to outdo the others, and their lives are spent in lawless rivalry, with magazines and papers the major beneficiaries. If all exhibitors were to agree to use a stipulated space, less money would be spent, and the result would be the same. But then the periodicals would be the losers, with sad results for us poor journalists.

When the public buys tickets to a movie, it is torn between the exhibitors’ publicity and its own skepticism. There is no telling what to expect. Hence any film is a surprise. Going to the movies is like roulette — you never know just where the ball will drop. Anyone who has been promised a sensation is bound to be surprised when he finds himself bored; if a sensation is not only promised but delivered, that is the biggest surprise of all.

Movies in Venezuela are not shown continuously. The admission fee buys a view of one film, regardless of grade; there is also a newsreel, but then — good night. This is not quite fair; I was forgetting that there is a fifteen-minute intermission too. At possibly its most exciting moment the film is stopped, the lights come on, gradually or with a flash, according to the impresario’s caprice, and boys come down the aisles to sell chocolate.

For many people the intermission is the high moment of the show. Think of it! Fifteen whole minutes in which to talk with friends, to see who has come with whom, to smoke a cigarette — but that must be done outside — to look at the women’s costumes and see how the men are looking. Fifteen minutes in which to emerge from the anonymity of darkness into the realm of light!

The showings at different hours are not equally important. The first is for children. The vespertina, at five o’clock, is for the formally engaged, who come accompanied by mother, aunt, sister, or little brother; that is also the time for well-bred girls of the old school, white, charming, distant, cool of manner. Altagracia prefers the vespertina. The intermediate showing, which begins at seven, is attended by people in mourning who do not wish to be conspicuous, by couples who may be shady or perhaps just not officially engaged as yet, and by families in good standing but reduced circumstances who have neither new clothes to show nor the five bolivares which are the price of the fashionable performances.

The last, at nine o’clock, is for family parties, the world of fashion, marriageable daughters who are not bespoken, night owls, and the generally emancipated, as well as for the wealthy and those supposed to be wealthy, since it is the most expensive. That is the time to display the new gown, the darling hat just received from Paris, the sweetheart, and financial affluence.

Different films are presented at any one day’s performances. The one shown at nine rates a whole page of publicity; from that peak a film descends to the vespertina, with a quarter page, and finally, in complete decadence, to the common grave which is the intermediate or the matinee performance and warrants only a stingy little epitaph of an advertisement that gives nothing but title and time. Vanitas vanitatum! as the disillusioned Preacher said.

In the smaller towns movies are far more enjoyable than in Caracas. Performances are usually presented out-of-doors, and the weather is always mild. Surrounded by low walls, the movie houses have the finest roof imaginable — a tropical sky of magic beauty, with moon, stars, Southern Cross, and all. One night Altagracia and I watched a raging Arctic blizzard with polar bears, ice-bound ships, seals, Eskimos, and all the frozen seasonings, while the heavens above seemed about to drop from the weight of stars, crickets chirped, and the intoxicating odor of magnolias filled the air. Grown blasé by travel, books, and fashion, we savored the incongruity and smiled in superiority, but the general public, farmers, muleteers, cowboys, travelers, Venezuelans all, exposed the virgin purity of their responsive souls to their emotions, and some even suffered a chill. A few dogs which had sneaked in among the seats barked at the polar bears. Several poor children who were watching, on horseback, outside, were excited by the snowstorm and produced a red one of their own with petals from the roses blooming on the wall; their perfumed shower caressed our faces. Suddenly, beside me, a thick but pleasant voice spoke with a countrified accent:

‘Will the young lady please shove over just a little?’

A farmer who had arrived late was looking for a seat. Frequently, in small-town theaters, the seats are only benches. The fellow must have hesitated a long time before venturing to bother us, but weariness at last had overcome timidity. Hat in hand, he waited for us to shove over and then sat down on the very end of the bench. When finally he had forgotten we were there, he gave free rein to his emotions. We watched him suffer, rejoice, worry, and laugh with the various episodes of the film. For him shouting children, barking dogs, the cries of vendors, stars, scents, had all ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, squeezed into her seat, Altagracia was grumbling about democracy and the absurd idea of rubbing elbows with anyone who came along. But all at once she stopped complaining and began to smile quietly. Her eyes had fallen on a pair of lovers, a half-breed muleteer and a dark-eyed country girl. They were holding hands in silence, and in their faces were reflected the beauty of the starlit night and all the fondness in the world. Southern Cross, rose petals, and magnolias seemed quite in keeping with that idyll unfolding on the bench of a country movie.

Comments: Olga Briceño (?-?) was a Venezuelan journalist, travel writer, novelist, lecturer and diplomat, who mostly wrote in Spanish. She was cultural attaché for her country in Cuba and the USA. Her charming book Cocks and Bulls in Caracas, describing family life in her native land, was published in English in America.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Oh, Jolly 3-D!

Source: G.W. Stonier, ‘Oh, Jolly 3-D!’ in Pictures on the Pavement (London: Michael Joseph, 1955), pp. 140-143

Text: Of course, we all insisted we wouldn’t go, but there we were: some frankly excited, others holding aloof, a few remembering their first talkie with Al Jolson imploring the skies, and a very few that Edwardian dark-room at the end of a pier in which, while one enjoyed, say, a vision of rough seas, the theatre itself rolled and pitched. Great days, when custard-pies were custard-pies, and any bicycles without riders would make straight for, and through, the nearest china-shop.

But already the news – stale news from a flat world – was over, and the lights were up. We looked round. Distinguished strangers present: hurriedly we felt for our own spectacles, tried them on, blinked, dandled.

FOR YOUR FURTHER ENJOYMENT

came the beauteous lantern-slide on the screen,

OUR STAFF WILL NOW VISIT ALL PARTS OF THIS THEATRE

(that meant poor fat Annie – charladying days over – with her tray).

PLEASE KEEP TO YOUR SEATS

(which, with Annie, seemed not difficult).

So, sucking the ice-creams which represent, we are told, the sole source of profits to impoverished British film-mongers, we cooled our rising excitement.

Spectacles on! In the confusion old Dr. Crunchbones had his, I swear, upside down, so that probably he’d see everything hollow; but then he always had. Miss Tripp, smiling, had pocketed hers. To a roar of music the title flashed up, Thick Men; it didn’t merely flash, it floated; behind, with a mileage that made us suddenly feel our seats had been pulled from under us, was a man – a thick man – poised on parapet, who slowly leant forward and disappeared, leaving the recession of river, quay, skyscraper, and sunset, into which we might all have disappeared if the foreground titles hadn’t, like a sort of inflamed masonry, held us back. We were discovering who had played the banjo, and who fiddled the hair-do’s, when the splash from below hit us.

The film itself – but how can one hope to imprint such things? Enough that this one was well up, or down, to standard, having taken advantage of 3-D to get back to the heart of things: the heroine (rather charmingly 3-D, I thought) chewed gum and drawled ‘Oh, yeah?’ and the hero, always getting into fixes and out of them, would stop short to exclaim ‘Let’s go’ or ‘You can’t do this to me’; nor could they; ropes and writs wouldn’t hold him; for seven reels – here’s the moral – you may get away with murder, but the eighth will find you out, probably on top
of Chicago’s highest skyscraper. He had an engaging habit, this swell guy, of blowing smoke-rings over us. For 3-D you must know, works forwards as well as backwards. Half the time they were sticking out elbows over the stalls or reclining their feet on the circle, and when the whole mob pulled guns you were fortunate if the muzzles nudged past you to someone else’s waistcoat behind. This – with some relief brought the first interlude.

And there we were, looking like Sunday afternoon on the Brighton front, and remarking ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Better than grandpa’s stereoscope,’ ‘But when they move at all quickly they seem to go off-kind of crinkly, ’ ‘Just as well, I couldn’t stand much more.’

Resuming, we were double-crossed, followed and frisked, run over, dangled from heights, swept to the wail of police sirens through satiny night, plunged into the glory of a night-club-the thick man’s (and woman’s) hide-out. Cops were there too; thicker and thicker; not even they knew one from t’other. We watched from the little high grille in the boss’s office. He was getting that eighth-reel feeling; the heights were calling. ‘Let’s go,’ a farewell to his lady – her lips protruding, filling the theatre like hippopotamus lips – second interlude.

‘Phew!’ ‘She loves him, though, doesn’t she?’ ‘What good’s that, his best friend’s a cop, see?’ ‘Colour a bit patchy.’ ‘Oh, well, can’t expect everything.’

Off again. Bang-bang. He must climb seventy-six floors, and the lift out of order. With that cop close behind. ‘My pal,’ he snarls over his shoulder, as he leaps for the fire-escape.

There’s a scream. ‘He’s pinched my spectacles, the beast!’ ‘What?’ ‘Liar!’ ‘Who?’ ‘Give ’em back!’ ‘Let go!’ ‘Swine!’ ‘I’ll inform the management!’ And in less than no time, followed by more bang-bangs, we were all out in the street shouting, struggling.

Well I wonder. These thick men – who in their time have been jittery, silent men, and then sleek yap-yap or sing-song men, and sometimes, amazingly, rainbow men whisked from beef-red to cheese-green in a trice – I don’t quite know how they’re going to take to their new freedom. Suppose, during a matinee – it’s been a long while coming -one of them were simply to walk off the screen? Would the rest follow? Should we have fugitive Neros, Henry ploughing through the stalls after Anne Boleyn, stampedes from chain-gangs, Carthage, the Titanic? Will there be an end to the Civil War, both sides deserting? It remains to be seen; if need be, resisted. 3-D has come to the local.

Comments: George Walter Stonier (1903-1985) was a British novelist, critic and journalist. His Pictures on the Pavement is a series of short, lightly humorous essays on aspects of London life. There was no 3D feature film called Thick Men, and I cannot identify what film it might be. There was a short-lived boom for stereoscopic feature films in the mid-1950s employing dual-strip projection, requiring audiences to wear special spectacles and intermissions needed for reel changeovers.

Adventures with D.W. Griffith

Source: Extracts from Karl Brown, Adventures with D.W. Griffith (London: Secker & Warburg, 1973), pp. 86-95

Text: It was a packed house, with swarms of people standing around outside, hoping for cancellations so they could get in anywhere at all, even in the top gallery. I never saw or felt such eager anticipation in any crowd as there was at that opening night. We three, my father, my mother, and I, had been given choice seats saved for us by Frank Woods. My parents, old-stagers at the business of opening nights, were all keyed up to a state of high tension, while I – well, I was feeling a little sick because I knew what the picture really was, just another Biograph, our four times as long. I simply couldn’t help feeling that it had been a tragic mistake to build up such a fever pitch of eager anticipation, only to let them down by showing them what was bound to be just another movie. Only longer, much longer, three hours longer. What audience, however friendly, could possibly sit through that much of nothing but one long, one very long movie of the kind they had seen a hundred times before?

My first inkling that this was not to be just another movie came when I heard, over the babble of the crowd, the familiar sound of a great orchestra tuning up. First the oboe sounding A, then the others joining to produce an ever-changing medley of unrelated sounds, with each instrument testing its own strength and capability through this warming-up preliminary. Then the orchestra came creeping in through that little doorway under the proscenium apron and I tried to count them. Impossible. Too many. But there were at least seventy, for that’s where I lost count, so most if not all of the Los Angeles Symphony orchestra had been hired to “play” the picture.

[…]

The house lights dimmed. The audience became tensely silent. I felt once again, as always before, that strange all-over chill that comes with the magic moment of hushed anticipation when the curtain is about to rise.

The title came on, apparently by mistake, because the curtain had not yet risen and all I could see was the faint flicker of the lettering against the dark fabric of the main curtain. But it was not a mistake at all, because the big curtain rose slowly to disclose the title, full and clear upon the picture screen, while at the same time [Joseph Carl] Briel’s baton rose, held for an instant, and then swept down, releasing the full impact of the orchestra in a mighty fanfare that was all but out-roared by the massive blast of the organ in an overwhelming burst of earth-shaking sound that shocked the audience first into a stunned silence and then roused them to a pitch of enthusiasm such as I had never seen or heard before.

Then, of course, came those damned explanatory titles that I had shot time and time again as Griffith and Woods kept changing and rechanging them, all with the object of having them make as much sense as possible in the fewest possible words. Somehow, the audience didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps they were hardened to it. They should have been, by now, because whenever anybody made any kind of historical picture, it always had to be preceded by a lot of titles telling all about it, not to mention a long and flowery dedication thanking everyone from the Holy Trinity to the night watchman for their invaluable cooperation, without which this picture would not have been possible.

The orchestra sort of murmured to itself during the titles, as though to reassure the audience that they couldn’t last forever. And then … the picture, gliding along through its opening sequences on a flow of music that seemed to speak for the screen and to interpret every mood. The audience was held entranced, but I was not. I was worried in the same way that young fathers, waiting to learn whether it’s a boy or a girl, are worried. I was worried, badly worried, about the battle scenes, and I wished they’d get through fiddle-faddling with that dance and all that mushy stuff and get down to cases. For it was a simple, open-and-shut matter of make or break as far as I could see; and I could not see how that mixed-up jumble of unrelated bits and pieces of action could ever be made into anything but a mixed-up jumble of bits and pieces.

Well, I was wrong. What unfolded on that screen was magic itself. I knew there were cuts from this to that, but try as I would, I could not see them. A shot of the extreme far end of the Confederate line flowed into another but nearer shot of the same line, to be followed by another and another, until I could have sworn that the camera had been carried back by some sort of impossible carrier that made it seem to be all one unbroken scene. Perhaps the smoke helped blind out the jumps, I don’t know. All I knew was that between the ebb and flow of a broad canvas of a great battle, now far and now near, and the roaring of that gorgeous orchestra banging and blaring battle songs to stir the coldest blood, I was hot and cold and feeling waves of tingling electric shocks racing all over me.

[…]

Somewhere during my self-castigation a title came on reading INTERMISSION. So soon? I asked my father the time. He pulled out his watch, snapped open the case, and said it was nine thirty. Preposterous. Somehow during the past fifteen minutes, or not more than twenty, an hour and a half had sneaked away.

We went out with the rest of the crowd to stretch our legs and, in true backstage fashion, to eavesdrop on the comments of the others. There was enthusiasm, yes; lots of it. It had been exactly as grandpa had described it was the consensus, only more real. There were also a few professionals who were wisely sure that Griffith was riding for all fall. “You can;t shoot all your marbles in the first half and have anything left for your finish” was the loudly expressed opinion of a very portly, richly dressed gentleman. “That battle was a lulu, best I’ve seen, and that assassination bit was a knockout, I ain’t kidding you. But what’s he going to do for a topper, that’s what I want to know. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. This thing is going to fizzle out like a wet firecracker, that’s what it’s going to do. Don’t tell me, I know! I’ve seen it happen too many times. They shoot the works right off the bat and they got nothing left for their finish. You wait and see. You just wait and see.”

[…]

And yet it wasn’t the finish that worried me so much as the long, dull, do-nothing stuff that I knew was slated for the bulk of the second half. Stuff like the hospital scenes, where Lillian Gish comes to visit Henry Walthall, she in demurest of dove grey, he in bed with a bandage neatly and evenly wrapped around his head. Now what in the world can anyone possibly do to make a hospital visit seem other than routine? He’ll be grateful, and she’ll be sweetly sympathetic, but what else? How can you or Griffith or the Man in the Moon possibly get anything out of such a scene? Answer: you can’t. But he did, by reaching outside the cur-and-dried formula and coming up with something so unexpected, and yet so utterly natural, that it lifted the entire thing right out of the rut and made it ring absolutely true.

Since this was an army hospital there had to be a sentry on guard. So Griffith looked around, saw a sloppy, futile sort of character loitering about, and ran him in to play the sentry, a fellow named Freeman, not an actor, just another extra. Well, Lillian passed before him and he looked after her and sighed. In the theater and on the screen, that sigh became a monumental, standout scene, because it was so deep, so heartfelt, and so loaded with longing for the unattainable that it simply delighted the audience. But not without help. Breil may not have been the greatest composer the world has ever known but he did know how to make an orchestra talk, and that sigh, uttered by the cellos and the muted trombones softly sliding down in a discordant glissando, drove the audience into gales of laughter.

[…]

I endured the “drama” – all that stuff with Ralph Lewis being shown up as a fake when he wouldn’t let his daughter marry George Siegmann because he was a mulatto – all because I was itching to get to the part where Walter Long chased Mae Marsh all over Big Bear Valley, running low and dripping with peroxide. What came on the screen wasn’t Walter Long at all. It was some sort of inhuman monster, an ungainly, misshapen creature out of a nightmare, not running as a human being would run but shambling like a gorilla. And Mae Marsh was not fluttering, either. She was a poor little lost girl frightened out of her wits, not knowing which way to turn, but searching, searching for safety, and too bewildered to know what she was doing. So she ran to the peak of that rock, and when the monster came lumbering straight at her, she … well, all I can say is that it was right, absolutely, perfectly, incontestably right.

And did the audience hate Griffith for letting them down? Not a bit of it. When the clansmen began to rise,the cheers began to rise from all over that packed house. This was not a ride to save Little Sister but to avenge her death, and every soul in that audience was in the saddle with the clansmen and pounding hell-for-leather on an errand of stern justice, lighted on their way by the holy flames of a burning cross.

[…]

So everyone was rescued and everyone was happy and everyone was noble in victory and the audience didn’t just sit there and applaud, but they stood up and cheered and yelled and stamped feet until Griffith finally made an appearance.

If you could call it an appearance. Now I, personally, in such a situation would have bounded out to the center of the stage with both hands aloft in a gesture of triumph, and I would probably have shaken my hands over my head, as Tom Wilson had told me was the proper thing for any world’s champion to do at the end of a hard-fought but victorious fight.

Griffith did nothing of the sort. He stepped out a few feet from stage left, a small, almost frail figure lost in the enormousness of that great proscenium arch. He did not bow or raise his hands or do anything but just stand there and let wave after wave of cheers and applause wash over him like great waves breaking over a rock.

Then he left. The show was over. There was an exit march from the orchestra, but nobody could hear it. People were far too busy telling one another how wonderful, how great, how tremendous it had all been.

Comments: Karl Brown (1896-1990) was an American cinematographer and director. He served as assistant to cinematographer Billy Bitzer on D.W. Griffith’s feature film The Birth of a Nation. His memoir Adventures with D.W. Griffith is one of the best first-hand accounts of silent era film. The event recalled here is the premiere at Clune’s Auditorium, Los Angeles, on 8 February 1915, when the film was still known as The Clansman. The composer Joseph Carol Breil did not conduct at the premiere – it was Carli Elinor, conducting his own score. Brown’s memory sometimes places film sequences in the wrong order, though Griffith did re-edit the film after initial screenings and in response to requests by censorship boards. Frank Woods was co-scriptwriter on the with with Griffith. Walter Long was a white actor playing a black character, Gus.

I’ve been spoilt this week …

Source: Extract from Lily Middleton, ‘I’ve been spoilt this week …’, Graduate Life! blog, http://lilymiddleton.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/ive-been-spoilt-this-week.html, 28 February 2014

Text: Last night I headed to the Curzon Cinema in Chelsea to see the National Theatre’s live streaming of War Horse. I’ve wanted to see War Horse for a long time, however looking to go recently the tickets are not cheap. So when I spotted that it was being streamed to the cinema, for a much more do-able price, I was in buying my tickets immediately. I’ve seen a Jamie Cullum gig streamed to a cinema before, which was weird at first but then you get used to it. This was much the same, at first you’re very conscious you’re watching a theatre through a screen, however once the enchanting and heart-wrenching story of War Horse begins I was completely immersed. The play is truly incredible; it’s amazing how quickly you forget you’re watching a puppet and feel affection for Joey. I especially liked how they don’t ever hide the fact that the horses are puppets, the costumes of the puppeteers aren’t particularly hiding them although do match the colours of the horse. With hardly any set, it really is a treat for the power of the imagination, whatever your age. I was transported to a variety of locations from scenic Devon to the horror of the trenches through simple props and lighting – and of course the power of the story itself taking you to these locations.

The story is powerful and heart wrenching. Billy raises Joey from a foal and they build a powerful bond, which we see is unbreakable. Joey is sold to the Army and the two are split, this play tells the story of the two characters individual war experiences and the ending is so emotional I’m welling up just thinking about it. It is a beautiful story and left my Mum and I in tears. As if the performance itself wasn’t special enough, at the end Joey himself entered the cinema! Everyone burst into excited applause; it was a privilege to be there and meet Joey. I think it may be the closest I’ve ever been to a horse! Everyone was commenting on how real he seemed, and as he walked around the cinema amongst a sea of camera phones and people trying to stroke him, he just showed how extraordinary a creation he is.

NT Live is a great idea, bringing live theatre to cinemas. However I didn’t like the interval feature, it was behind the scenes videos, showing behind the scenes footage and interviews. This would be great to see at the end of the show, or a few days later. But seeing this in the middle of the show slightly broke the magic that had been cast over the cinema, particularly as the clips showed parts of the play we had not yet even seen!

Comments: Lily Middleton is a British marketing & PR assistant, theatre reviewer and musician. War Horse, the National Theatre’s 2007 stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the First World War, was broadcast to cinemas in the NT Live series from the New London Theatre on 27 February 2014. The remainder of the blog post covers an actual stage production, The Lion King. My thanks to Lily Middleton for permission to reproduce this extract.

Links: NT Live web page for War Horse

I've been spoilt this week …

Source: Extract from Lily Middleton, ‘I’ve been spoilt this week …’, Graduate Life! blog, http://lilymiddleton.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/ive-been-spoilt-this-week.html, 28 February 2014

Text: Last night I headed to the Curzon Cinema in Chelsea to see the National Theatre’s live streaming of War Horse. I’ve wanted to see War Horse for a long time, however looking to go recently the tickets are not cheap. So when I spotted that it was being streamed to the cinema, for a much more do-able price, I was in buying my tickets immediately. I’ve seen a Jamie Cullum gig streamed to a cinema before, which was weird at first but then you get used to it. This was much the same, at first you’re very conscious you’re watching a theatre through a screen, however once the enchanting and heart-wrenching story of War Horse begins I was completely immersed. The play is truly incredible; it’s amazing how quickly you forget you’re watching a puppet and feel affection for Joey. I especially liked how they don’t ever hide the fact that the horses are puppets, the costumes of the puppeteers aren’t particularly hiding them although do match the colours of the horse. With hardly any set, it really is a treat for the power of the imagination, whatever your age. I was transported to a variety of locations from scenic Devon to the horror of the trenches through simple props and lighting – and of course the power of the story itself taking you to these locations.

The story is powerful and heart wrenching. Billy raises Joey from a foal and they build a powerful bond, which we see is unbreakable. Joey is sold to the Army and the two are split, this play tells the story of the two characters individual war experiences and the ending is so emotional I’m welling up just thinking about it. It is a beautiful story and left my Mum and I in tears. As if the performance itself wasn’t special enough, at the end Joey himself entered the cinema! Everyone burst into excited applause; it was a privilege to be there and meet Joey. I think it may be the closest I’ve ever been to a horse! Everyone was commenting on how real he seemed, and as he walked around the cinema amongst a sea of camera phones and people trying to stroke him, he just showed how extraordinary a creation he is.

NT Live is a great idea, bringing live theatre to cinemas. However I didn’t like the interval feature, it was behind the scenes videos, showing behind the scenes footage and interviews. This would be great to see at the end of the show, or a few days later. But seeing this in the middle of the show slightly broke the magic that had been cast over the cinema, particularly as the clips showed parts of the play we had not yet even seen!

Comments: Lily Middleton is a British marketing & PR assistant, theatre reviewer and musician. War Horse, the National Theatre’s 2007 stage production of Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the First World War, was broadcast to cinemas in the NT Live series from the New London Theatre on 27 February 2014. The remainder of the blog post covers an actual stage production, The Lion King. My thanks to Lily Middleton for permission to reproduce this extract.

Links: NT Live web page for War Horse

Live from the Met

Source: John Wyver, ‘Live from the Met’, Illuminations blog, 26 February 2007, http://www.illuminationsmedia.co.uk/blog/index.cfm?start=1&news_id=8

Text: On Saturday night I saw (and heard) the future of arts programmes. Or rather I saw how one strand of what we used to think of as arts television will develop. I went to the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill. But I also went to the opera, for this was an evening when the Gate was showing a live transmission in High Definition from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. And it did feel a little (just a little) like turning up at the Met, even if the ticket price was £25 rather than the $300 top-price charge in New York.

As we went in, projected onto the screen were pictures of people filtering into the auditorium across the Atlantic. There was an intermission for drinks and ice creams (and the Gate has a welcome policy of allowing drinks to be taken in – and in glasses too). People applauded after some of the arias and, once they had realised that it was socially acceptable, with even greater enthusiasm at the end. The HD pictures from the stage were stunning and the sound, at least where I was sitting was more than acceptable (friends further back felt that the audio feed was far too thin). But of course the experience for me was was neither exactly cinema nor opera; indeed it might best be described as live television on a big screen with an audience.

The opera was Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, with Renée Fleming as Tatiana and Valery Gergiev conducting. The cast and musicians all performed at the top of their game, and there were times, especially towards the end, when the experience was completely involving and emotionally affecting. The immensely experience[d] Brian Large directed the cameras, and did a wonderful job of pointing up the dramatic confrontations, staying back for the spectacles and on occasions getting in close for intimacy. The stage production was very spare, with exquisite lighting by Jean Kalman, and this translated wonderfully to the screen.

Saturday a week ago I watched the repeat of Wagner’s Das Rheingold on BBC4 from Covent Garden. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two experiences, but despite Rheingold being among my favourite two or three operas, I quite definitely preferred the experience of going to the Gate. Even allowing for the HD quality, the pictures from the Met were cleaner and clearer -the lighting at Covent Garden looked shadowy and uneven. There was also a much greater sense of occasion and ritual, even though I tried to clear the evening and settle down before the television with a decent red wine. As for whether I preferred an introduction from Mikhail Barysnikov or Michael Portillo (guess who was where) I could have lived without both, but I much preferred the detailed information about the opera and production on the Met’s website to the scrappy online information made available by the BBC.

One of the intriguing aspects of this initiative by the Met is that it takes “television” back to a moment just after World War Two when cinema chains in America experimented with live broadcasts into theatres. Both Paramount and RCA trialled projection systems in 1947 and in 1949 screenings of World Series baseball were immensely popular in New York, Boston and Chicago. Over one hundred theatres were equipped but the returns were never significant enough to recoup the costs. Then the regulatory authority refused to licence exclusive broadcast channels and television started to become the fundamentally domestic medium with which we’ve all grown up.

Satellites and HD, however, offer the chance to do things differently, and these early sell-out screenings of Met broadcasts (they are doing six this season, although not all are being taken in the UK) suggest that there’s a commercial future for this new experience. Next up is The Barber of Seville on March 24.

Comments: John Wyver is a British writer and producer of arts-based programmes with his company Illuminations. The streaming of live performances of theatrical productions into cinemas (and other venues) appears to have begun in late 2006 with the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series (one of whose broadcasts into the UK is the subject of the blog post reproduced here), though as Wyver notes there is a long history of televised broadcasts into cinemas. The genre of live stage productions shown in cinemas has not settled on a term as yet: streamed theatre, live-streamed theatre, live-to-cinema, simulcasts, live theatre and live cinema have all been used. Picturegoing has settled on the term streamed theatre. Wyver has become a producer of streamed theatre himself with RSC Live, whose first production was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II in 2013. The Met’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was first produced on 27 February 24 2007 and starred Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Onegin), Renée Fleming (Tatiana) and Ramón Vargas (Lensky), with conductor Valery Gergiev. The Gate is one of the oldest cinemas in the UK still operating as a cinema, having been founded in 1911. My thanks to John Wyver for the permission to reproduce his post here.

Climbing the Mango Trees

Source: Madhur Jaffrey, Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India (London: Random House, 2005), pp. 94-95

Text: We liked all movies but going to Hindi movies had added benefits. These Indian films were particularly conducive to whetting and then satisfying our appetites. They generally lasted about four hours. Whole families, including infants, would come to view the mythological-historical-tragi-comical musicals. There was a great deal of yelling, crying, getting up, singing along and sitting down in the audience throughout the show. Certainly no-one minded the noisy unwrapping of paper cones containing chane gor jaram, small chickpeas that had been flattened and roasted, then flavoured with cumin, chilli powder, sour mango powder and black rock salt. We would much on the chickpeas as we watched Hanuman, the Monkey God, fly across a dark sky dotted equidistantly with hundreds of five-pointed stars, all cut from the same stencil.

During the intermission we would all go in a horde to buy potato patties, aloo-ki-tikiyas, from vendors who had carefully posted themselves outside the cinema doors. These patties were a Delhi speciality and their unique flavour depended partly on the way they were cooked and partly on the spices in the stuffing. They were not deep-fried or shallow-fried but pan-roasted instead.

Each vendor carried a brazier on which he had set up a large cast-iron griddle (tava). Patties that were ready to sell sat waiting on the outer fringes, staying warm until needed. Those that were still cooking were in the centre, sizzling away in a few tablespoons of oil that pooled in the middle. in one pot were the vendor’s seasoned mash potatoes, and in another the mashed potatoes, and in another the stuffing made out of highly spiced split peas that had been cooked until dry and crumbly. To make a patty, the vendor would pinch off a ball of mashed potatoes, flatten it into a small patty, pinch off a smaller ball of the stuffing and place it in the centre. Then he would cover up the stuffing with the potato and make a ball. The ball was then flattened and slapped onto the griddle.

The squatting vendor kept turning each patty this way and that until it was reddish brown and completely crisp on both sides. By this time our mouths could almost taste the tikiyas. As soon as he got the order, the vendor would place a patty on a leaf, split it open and smother both parts with sweet and sour tamarind chutney. We would carry these hot patties back into the dark cinema house and eat them as we watched Hanuman trying to rescue Sita, the good queen, from the clutches of the demon King of Sri Lanka.

Comments: Madhur Jaffrey (born 1933 is an Indian actress and cookery writer. At the time of this extract from memoirs of her childhood spent in India, it was the mid-1940s and her family was living in Delhi.